Fossil Hunting in Dorset

The fun and fascination of fossil hunting

Every day, whatever the weather, families and couples can be found hunting for fossils on Dorset beaches.

Winter provides the richest pickings. Storms churn up the sea and take chunks out of the cliffs, exposing rocks hidden for millions of years. There’s also less competition from the casual fossil hunters who only come out in the sunny, summer months.

Dorset beaches are particularly rich in fossils. They are part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, where some incredible finds have been made over the years.

Fossil hunting is a great family activity for lots of reasons, including:

  • It’s easy – some beaches are packed with fossils.
  • It’s free – there’s no charge for collecting fossils.
  • It’s on the beach – and who doesn’t love that?

We’ve listed some local beaches you may want to explore for fossils – look below.

Experts want you to hunt for fossils in Dorset

Picking up fossils from the beach isn’t just a fun activity – it’s positively encouraged. That’s because once a fossil is washed out of a cliff and exposed to the sea, it won’t stay in good condition for long. The waves will break it up or damage it.

Every fossil you pick up and take away is being preserved for the future. They may also encourage you to learn more about the ancient creatures who left these relics behind.

While it’s fun to find as many fossils as possible, remember to leave some behind for others to discover.

Corfe Castle

Best Dorset beaches for fossil hunting

Ringstead Bay
Our local beach, at Ringstead Bay, is a great place to find fossils. There are usually plenty to pick up from the beach, with giant oysters being particularly common. Other fossils you can find here include ammonites and other shells.

Hammering loose rocks is permitted, but the bedrock must not be disturbed.

Before you go onto the beach you should pay a visit to the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, where they have a fantastic collection of fossils. It’s free and there are plenty of displays to help you learn more about the creatures that become fossils, as well as tips on how to find them today.

They often have experts on hand, who can tell you more about particular fossils that you have found.

You can buy fossil hunting equipment, such as geological hammers, from their shop.

The beach is well known as a place for finding ammonites and belemnites.

Lyme Regis
A little further along the coast from Charmouth is the picturesque town of Lyme Regis, with its famous Cobb harbour wall. It was also the home of Mary Anning, one of the earliest fossil hunters and experts in paleontology (the study of fossils).

Some of the ichthyosaurs (fish lizard dinosaurs) she found are now in museums all over the world, including the Natural History Museum in London.

Kimmeridge Bay
The privately owned beach at Kimmeridge is popular with water sports enthusiasts and there are plenty of fossils to see in the rocks. However, you are not permitted to use a hammer on any rocks in the bay.

The Cobb, Lyme Regis

Fossils you might find in Dorset

The tightly wound spiral of the ammonite is a common symbol of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, because it’s one of the most common fossils you can find here.

The spiral is the shell, inside which lived a sea creature similar to a squid, with long tentacles. They began life with tiny shells but as they grew, they added new sections, and the shell became larger. Some of the biggest ammonites are well over one metre across.

Another very common fossil is the belemnite, from another squid-like creature. This had a long, thin shell with a point at one end. Sometimes you’ll find the point, more often you’ll discover a small piece of rock shaped as a cylinder – this means the point has broken off.

If you’re hopeful of finding part of a dinosaur on a Dorset beach, it will most likely come from an ichthyosaur. These huge reptiles were often several metres long, with a long jaw packed with teeth. You can see an example in the Charmouth Heritage Visitor Centre.

Should you be lucky enough to find part of one, most likely it will be one or more vertebrae, from the spine. A single one is a rough disk-shape, with slight indentations on the two faces.

Other fossils you might find on Dorset beaches include various sea shells, sea urchins and shark teeth.

Take care when fossil hunting

While searching for fossils on the beach is fun, there are some basic safety points to be aware of.

Check the tide times – the best time for fossil hunting is low tide. It’s important to be aware of the tides, to avoid the risk of becoming cut off.

Don’t dig in the cliffs – leave it to the sea to expose rocks that are still inside the cliffs. You don’t want to risk setting off a fall of rocks.

Don’t walk or sit beneath the cliffs – again, because of the risk of falling rocks.

Protect your eyes – if you’re going to hammer rocks, wear a pair of goggles to protect your eyes from flying stone chips.

Taking a few simple precautions will help you to have a great time fossil collecting.

Bored of fossil hunting?

There’s more than just fossils to be found on Dorset beaches, particularly in the Lyme Regis and Charmouth area.

Here the beaches are rich with sea glass, smoothed pottery fragments and many other old domestic items that have been weathered by the waves. Their source is the old rubbish dump for Lyme Regis, begun in the Victorian era. Years ago a landslip exposed the dump and much of its contents have now been washed into the sea.